There are always expectations for each gender. In Western societies, people tend to think of masculinity and femininity as opposites; men and woman distinctly different. Historically, other cultures such as the Navajo, did not have such clean cut lines between the two terms. In their culture there was a third gender called berdaches, who were anatomically men but fell between male and female. Depending on how you are brought up, you will have different expectations associated with your sex.
Now how does this all relate when we are talking about art history? Why and how are gender issues relevant or useful in a study of early twentieth century modern art? Art history in general is important to study because art is a reflection of a society’s values. And when studying anything it is important to think critically and always ask questions. “To examine critically the narratives of modernism, and the art works which they describe and interpret, we will have to unpick the value systems upon which they are based.” Gender issues are relevant in today’s society so it would only make sense that it would also be relevant in the study of art history. While there is never a concrete answer to questions such as what is ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine,’ the simple fact that these questions are being asked is important. If we don’t question anything we won’t advance, critical thinking helps us to move forward in society.
In Linda Nochlin’s essay, Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? Nochlin acknowledges that the increase of feminist activity as liberating but primarily emotional and subjective. These types of radical movements are often centered around “the present and its immediate needs, rather than on historical analysis of the basic intellectual issues which the feminist attack on the status quo automatically raises.” This is one reason why gender issues are important in the study of early twentieth century modern art. Art being a reflection of a time and societal values, studying it is just a way to stray away from strictly emotional accusations that feminists make. By attempting to answer the question, why have there been no great women artists, you are reinforcing the questions negative implications. Accepting that the question as it is without questioning the question it self.
What defines a great artist? Is it defined by what is in the museums? “In theory, museums are public spaces dedicated to the spiritual enhancement of all who visit them. In practice, however, museums are prestigious and powerful engines of ideology.” This is a bold statement but it does have truth in it. In Carol Duncan’s The MoMA’s Hot Mamas, Duncan argues that women in art are represented in a manner that proves women are inferior, or at least that men are superior. She proves this by using observations, giving examples, providing theories, and describing details of both the works of art and their settings in the museums:
“Since the heroes of this ordeal are generically men, the presence of women artists in this mythology can be only an anomaly. Women artists, especially if they exceed the standard token number, tend to degender the ritual ordeal. Accordingly,…